Thursday, March 05, 2015

Parish Magazine Item for April

As of 1st April there are 37 days until the General Election. Some of us may be sick of hearing about it already, but I think it’s important for us to engage with it. And, of course, if we are Christians, we’ll want to think about these issues, like all other issues, Christianly and engage Christianly in the political process.

The Bishops of the Church of England agree and they caused something of a stir with their Pastoral Letter to the People and Parishes of The Church of England on the 2015 General Election (published on 17th February) entitled Who Is My Neighbour? which can be read via:

Since the letter is 56 pages long, I expect few people will bother to read it in full! And you almost certainly won’t agree with it all. But then perhaps the church is too often bland and “nice” in a forgettable kind of way. It’s good, I think, for the Bishops to try to say something definite and specific – even if we might think they get it wrong in places, or that there are important things they leave unsaid.

I can understand that we might not want our church leaders to be party political. I won’t be suggesting from the pulpit or in these pages how I think you should vote. But I do think it would be good to vote. Though I also think there could be a case for a ballot paper that allows voters to opt for “none of the above” or a re-opening of nominations. I wonder how the political class would react if 51% of ballot papers were spoilt? The Bible warns us not to put our trust in princes, and, it seems to me we might quite legitimately extend the admonition to apply to our elected representatives too.

It is all too easy for politicians to have a Messiah complex. One important Christian contribution to political debate is to say that the position of Messiah is already taken! Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world and only he can bring ultimate peace, hope, joy and human flourishing. A Christian view of politics calls for humility in leaders and reminds us that all human beings, Prime Ministers included, are sinners. The latest manifesto can’t hope to transform human hearts.  

But that does not mean that the Christian faith can be entirely apolitical. Jesus’ claims to be king and Messiah were enough to cause the powers that be to have him crucified. He claimed all authority in heaven and on earth and that must include what we’d call political authority. The Bible’s vision is not of a purely private and somehow “spiritual” faith that does not affect Monday mornings or public life. Life is not easily divided into the sacred and the secular and Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbour must surely influence how we vote and apply to how we order our common life.

Even if we can’t agree how Christians should vote, the Bible is clear that we should pray for our political leaders. For example, the Apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:1-2: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—  for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” 

This prayer that the duty Bishop leads before House of Lords debates might guide our prayers:

“Almighty God, by whom alone Kings reign, and Princes decree justice; and from whom alone cometh all counsel, wisdom, and understanding; we thine unworthy servants, here gathered together in thy Name, do most humbly beseech thee to send down thy Heavenly Wisdom from above, to direct and guide us in all our consultations; and grant that, we having thy fear always before our eyes, and laying aside all private interests, prejudices, and partial affections, the result of all our counsels may be to the glory of thy blessed Name, the maintenance of true Religion and Justice, the safety, honour, and happiness of the Queen, the publick wealth, peace and tranquillity of the Realm, and the uniting and knitting together of the hearts of all persons and estates within the same, in true Christian Love and Charity one towards another, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen.”

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